Freedom of Speech; the Writing is on the Wall.

Britain Banksy

The latest mural from the renowned graffiti artist Banksy appeared in Clacton-on-Sea, in Essex, but shortly after was removed by the local council who found it to ”contain offensive and racist remarks”. The council’s actions are a ridiculous mixture of stupidity and cowardice.

The piece appeared amidst prominent immigration issues in the local area after the local Conservative MP, Douglas Carswell, defected to UKIP triggering a local by-election. The artwork seems to be inspired by the political turmoil as the piece depicts a group of pigeons holding banners and signs bearing xenophobic comments and glaring at a small exotic bird. The comments read ”Go back to Africa”, ”Migrants not welcome” and ”Keep off our worms”. This is obviously a parody of the British far right movement hence it is infuriating that the work was scrubbed from the wall for containing racist comments despite taking a blatantly critical stance towards racism.

The removal of the piece is not what I find bothering; rather, it’s the sordid justification the council gave. Their actions exemplify how there is an inflated fear in society of what might be deemed offensive and this is clear in this recent case as a tame and well natured graffiti piece was seen as insulting. While it is important to be sensitive to what others hold dear, it is crucial to allow open discussion of matters, even as sensitive as racism. To resolve these issues we must have the bravery to acknowledge them.

That being said it is important to maintain a level of decency in public areas which should be kept free of content that would widely make people uncomfortable; sexually explicit or violent imagery are a couple of examples. Yet we allow content that is explicit as advertisers often use sexual content in advertising. So why is it that we tolerate crudeness in advertising but allow our governments to censor potentially controversial art?

While censorship has a part to play in protecting the public against needless vulgarity it must be used sparingly. It is natural to be offended; it’s difficult to address sensitive matters without someone taking umbrage and it would be ludicrous to say that is a reason to not discuss such issues. After all, what we depend on as a society isn’t our desire to cling to comfort but our ability to correct ourselves through open dialogue. I would urge the public to rebuke authorities who remove content merely due to its challenging nature. If we are to amend society’s shortcomings we cannot censor debate, and should prioritise progress over sensitivity.